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Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Virtual volunteering

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, many nonprofits have suspended volunteer recruitment efforts, modified frontline service delivery, or are searching for new ways to recruit or engage volunteers.

We all have a role to play in flattening the curve, and, while the process of modifying our programs and recruitment efforts may seem daunting, remember the same framework your organization uses to recruit and retain volunteers applies to remote opportunities.

What to consider if you’re moving to virtual volunteer engagement:

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel

The first step is taking stock of what already exists within the organization – screening processes, volunteer policies, and existing software and platforms. Chances are you already have a lot of the groundwork in place for remote engagement.

For screening, consider what aspects of the recruitment process can be postponed or done virtually:

  • Use an online application form to gather important you may need from prospective volunteers.
  • Meet with new volunteers online to get a feel for who they are as an individual and how they may fit within the organization. Many meeting platforms can support traditional interview processes.
  • Consider pairing up with your local volunteer centre or another nonprofit to offer online volunteer training for existing volunteers.

2. Get creative

Think outside the box – there are many ways to alter existing volunteer roles or offer programs and services while maintaining current health standards for physical distancing.

  • Look at existing volunteer roles and consider what tasks and responsibilities are suited to remote work
  • Talk to your existing volunteers – ask them how they want to be engaged and their ideas for how they can contribute during this time. Bonus: this fosters repeat engagement and supports volunteers in feeling valued.
  • Think of ways to engage your clients virtually through online programming or meeting spaces (e.g. drop-in programs for children or “adopt a senior” Facebook group)

The possibilities are endless!

3. Keep volunteers engaged

It’s important to keep volunteers engaged! When volunteers are involved, they will have a more positive volunteer experience, a stronger connection with the organization and its mission, and are more likely to stay committed.

While in-person relationships are important, we need to consider how to build online communities that are accessible and engaging.

  • Offer frequent updates: tell volunteers how the organization has adapted to COVID-19 and continues to meet its mission.
  • Share impact stories: share how volunteers make a difference in the community and the lives of your clients.
  • Offer online meeting spaces: create communities of practice amongst your volunteers and offer ways for them to connect with one another online (e.g. volunteer meet-ups on Skype).

4. If you can’t go remote, be safe

If you’re an organization that offers frontline services and must still provide in-person programs or services, ensure you take every precaution possible:

  • Regularly wash hands.
  • Respect the 2 metre rule.
  • Limit contact between the volunteer and client as much as possible.
  • Provide training for volunteers about COVID-19 processes and procedures.

When in doubt, defer to the advice of Alberta Health Services and the Government of Alberta’s recommendations. These websites are updated daily and have the most relevant information to keep volunteers and clients safe.

Traditional ways volunteering will always be around, but remote and micro-volunteering has changed the way we engage with volunteers. When the world returns to “normal” and physical distancing is something of a distant memory, remote engagement could open many doors you had not considered before.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or Volunteer Canada.

For more ideas on managing virtual volunteers, watch this webinar from IAVE.

To find or post a remote or micro-volunteering opportunity, visit VolunteerConnector.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

Volunteering during pandemic

Re-thinking volunteer engagement during a pandemic: Micro-volunteering

As volunteer engagement specialists, it’s essential to recognize and respond to trends. Understanding who the volunteers are in the community and what types of opportunities they’re interested in helps engage and find volunteers in the current climate. This doesn’t change in a pandemic. In fact, we need to be more responsive and open to change since the situation is continuously evolving.

As COVID-19 has reached pandemic levels and physical distancing has become the best defence to stop the spread, you might be searching for new ways to support volunteers.  In this three-part blog series, we’ll be exploring different volunteer engagement trends at the forefront of pandemic response, starting with micro-volunteering.

What is micro-volunteering?

Micro-volunteering is volunteering that includes short-term commitment, a flexible schedule, and focuses on a specific project or one-time task. It can also look like small acts of kindness volunteers do on their own time that may not be tied to a particular cause or charity.

How to create a successful micro-volunteering program

By having a system in place to respond to micro-volunteering, you give your organization and existing volunteers a chance to grow.

1. A strong social media presence

An online presence is an absolute must if you want to engage micro-volunteers successfully. Your organization will need a strong media presence to drive the potential campaigns and provide regular updates to your micro-volunteers and potential prospects.

Be sure to have a variety of different platforms for volunteers to engage with – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.

2. Be prepared to let go

Micro-volunteering is a time-sensitive ask and may not recruit long-term volunteers. Be sure to have a well-rounded plan – include short-term opportunities with regular, long-term opportunities to engage volunteers and support operations post-pandemic.

3. Tie micro-volunteering to your overall impact

Micro-volunteering can sometimes be thought of as slacktivism – merely liking an organization on Facebook doesn’t generate long-term impact for an organization. However, by creating macro-focused opportunities, we can establish a long-lasting impact through micro-volunteering. Find ways to gather data from your volunteers, program users, and social media metrics to address overall impact.

It’s important to keep the big picture in mind when trying new tactics for engagement. Lay a strong foundation to generate long-term impact.

Examples of micro-volunteering

Many hands make light work, and micro-volunteering is a great way to boost visibility for your nonprofit and build awareness of your mission. Here are some ways to engage micro-volunteers in your organization:

  • Organize a donation drive for your nonprofit.
  • Ask existing clients or volunteers to post impact stories about their experience with your organization to social media.
  • Create micro-projects for volunteers with technical skills (e.g. website design, coding, communications) to update webpages or create new marketing materials.
  • Conduct a virtual fundraiser and social media campaign (e.g. ALS Ice Bucket Challenge).

In the end, no matter how our programs and engagement tactics evolve, we can support our community in finding a sense of purpose, connection and impact.

For more resources related to volunteering, screening and recruitment, visit Volunteer Alberta or ECVO.

To find a micro-volunteer opportunity, visit Volunteer Canada.

Daniela Seiferling

Volunteer Alberta

 

 

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What young volunteers can bring to the board governance table

Many nonprofits and charities experience challenges in recruiting young volunteers. What kind of language appeals to youth? What channels can you reach them on? And what type of opportunities are they looking for?

Luckily, at Volunteer Alberta, we’ve created a unique volunteer matching program that connects youth with nonprofit boards across the province: Youth @ the Table, taking the guess-work out of recruiting young volunteers for board governance.

In this guest blog, Janica and Paul, a mentor and youth board member duo from Youth @ the Table, tell us how trying something new and joining the program led to an impactful relationship between them, and uncovered lasting learnings.

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Janica:  I’m a person who loves the community. I’ve worked in the not-for-profit sector for most of my career. I am the Executive Director of Humanity In Practice (h!p), and I am a Youth @the Table mentor.

Paul: I’m currently a board member of Humanity in Practice and am part of Youth @ The Table. I am also a second-year undergraduate neuroscience student at the University of Calgary.

What made you want to participate in Youth @ the Table?

Janica: We were excited to engage youth at a board level. I thought this was an excellent opportunity to connect with Volunteer Alberta and other nonprofits across Alberta. We hoped to understand the challenges and experience the benefits that youth can bring to an organization.

Paul: I have experience in volunteering, but was always curious about the function and decision-making structure of the organizations that I volunteered for. The need for youth involvement became apparent when I came across a statement from Youth @ The Table saying that youth representation is lacking in nonprofit governance. I became motivated to participate in Youth @ The Table to learn more about nonprofit governance, but also increase youth engagement at this level.

Did Youth @ the Table allow you to connect and learn more about board governance easier?

Janica: YES! The process was simple. Volunteer Alberta handled all aspects of recruiting a board member, which we know can be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. This opportunity provided both h!p and youth with training, networking, and a board member match. Paul was a welcomed addition to our board.

Paul: Without Youth @ The Table, I don’t think I would have reached out and become part of a nonprofit board. It’s daunting for youth to participate. We do not have much experience nor knowledge about nonprofit governance and boards. Janica has been such a great mentor and has made me feel more confident in myself as a board member.

What are your key takeaways from this experience?

Janica: Youth are busy with school, work, and extracurricular activities, and thus, a successful role for them must contain flexibility. The youth want to be engaged and heard. Paul brought to our table fresh ideas and insights. By listening to his ideas, we tailored our program to be more youth-friendly!

Paul: Collaborating and presenting my perspective is not as scary as it seems. I really feel that my voice is valued on my board. With that said, I also learned that not all boards are the same. Finally, I learned that being a board member takes time, which some youth don’t have much of. Despite the challenges, the relationship you build with a board mentor and board can enhance your experience. Janica and h!p listen to my perspectives and points of view. I am genuinely thankful for all they have done to accommodate me.

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to your peers?

Janica: I would tell boards: “Bring them on!” Create an environment where youth can be engaged with your organization at a higher level.

Paul: Don’t be scared. Both boards and youth should be willing to connect with each other without any barriers. We shouldn’t be afraid to get involved.

Any last thoughts?

Janica: Through Youth @ the Table, Volunteer Alberta created an opportunity to connect youth to a board-level experience that gives them insight into the nonprofit sector. I hope that experiences like Y@TT encourage youth to continue supporting and participating in the nonprofit sector.

Also, our board has met the other participating boards and given us an opportunity to network. We learned about other initiatives across our province. The possibilities of collaborations and shared learnings have been an unexpected outcome, one that has both strengthened our awareness of programs and services available and has introduced us to like-minded cheerleaders.

Looking for more resources about engaging youth on your boards? We’ve got you covered. Coming in the spring of 2020, Volunteer Alberta is releasing a Youth @ the Table Good Practice Guide that identifies what the 23 participating organizations did well to engage youth during the program. We are excited to share what we learned with you.

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Are you ready to recruit volunteers? 3 resources to help you get started

Recruiting and engaging volunteers is much more than requesting a police information check or simply putting an ad up on social media that says, “volunteers needed!” It’s an ongoing process that matches the right volunteer with the right opportunity creating a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.

At Volunteer Alberta, we believe that a successful volunteer recruitment and engagement program is crucial to onboard and retain outstanding, dedicated volunteers. So, is your organization ready to recruit volunteers? Here are three resources to help you get started:

1. Watch the 10 Steps to Screening video

If you don’t know where to start, watch the 10 Steps to Screening video. In this video, we adapted the Ten Steps from Volunteer Canada’s Screening Handbook to give you a quick overview of the screening process.

We also recommend taking a deeper dive into the Screening Handbook to guide you through important information like risk and liability, police checks, privacy, and social policy. The handbook is also a great resource to demonstrate the value of screening in case anyone in your organization needs convincing.

2. Create captivating volunteer position descriptions

Once you’re familiar with the principles of screening, you can start creating volunteer position descriptions. Our handy template will help you to develop specific positions and identify risks and relevant policies.

When creating position descriptions, we encourage you to think about tasks, roles or skilled work that would interest volunteers. Make sure the description is captivating enough to motivate potential volunteers to apply!

Bonus resource: The Window of Work can also help you to create an engaging volunteer posting.

3. Complete a risk assessment

Now that you’ve mapped out your volunteer positions, you can complete a risk assessment to determine what information you’ll need to screen volunteers into your organization.

Our risk assessment matrix can help you determine whether you need a police information check (PIC) or a vulnerable sector check (VSC). Generally, the higher the risk, the greater the degree of screening is necessary for the position.

Looking for more learning resources on volunteer recruitment and screening? Check out our seven-part webinar series starting February 26, 2020! Learn more.

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2019 Member Spotlight Rewind: Tips from nonprofits for nonprofits

In 2019, Alberta nonprofits faced new challenges. Together, we collaborated, advocated, and delivered innovative solutions. At Volunteer Alberta, we also featured our Members’ fantastic work including their insights and successes. 

So in case, you missed it in 2019, here is a breakdown of what some of our Members accomplished and their tips for you and your nonprofit: 

Advocacy

CCVO (Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations) helps Alberta nonprofits make a difference in our sector by teaching and sharing their knowledge in policy and advocacy work. Last year, CCVO developed an election toolkit to help nonprofits in their preparation for the Alberta election.

CCVO’s tip for nonprofits? Speak up in every way you can during election time. 

“If we stay silent during an election campaign, we let other sectors drive the agenda, which can mean that we won’t see meaningful commitments from political parties on issues that matter to the nonprofit sector.”

Community building 

One of Hinton FCSS’s main goals is to foster community connection and reduce social isolation. As a result, informal giving or volunteering organically flourishes in their programs and services.

Hinton FCSS’s tip for nonprofits? “Friends are just strangers waiting to happen.” 

Hinton FCSS launched a Friendly Visitor Program: a program brought to life by people offering their friendship to another person. Instead of volunteers doing bare minimum visits, volunteers tend to turn strangers into life-long family friends, connecting and building the community in Hinton.

St. Albert CIVC, also known as St. Albert’s hidden gem, celebrated its 40th birthday in 2019 as the go-to place for volunteer matching and recognition. Its success is due in large part to their understanding that community building stems directly from volunteer appreciation.

St. Albert CIVC’s tip for nonprofits? When it comes to planning volunteer appreciation events, keeping it simple always works best.

St. Albert CIVC’s Coffee Break program partners with local coffee businesses to distribute coupons for free coffee to volunteers as a way to thank them for their contributions to the community.

Risk Management

Capacity building organizations like the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (ECVO) provide education and guidance on not only managing risk, but also foundational knowledge for nonprofits in their community.

ECVO’s tip for nonprofits? When it comes to mitigating risk, nonprofits should consider exposure to any possible risks.

“In addition to general comprehensive liability insurance, director and officer insurance is a must. Cyber insurance is quickly becoming a standard insurance inclusion.”

Volunteer recruitment & engagement 

In 2018, Propellus officially launched a new website called VolunteerConnector, Alberta’s first platform that connects volunteers with available opportunities shared by nonprofits across Alberta.

Propellus’s tip for nonprofits? Inform your volunteer program with current data and trends. 

“Implement our research in training for volunteer engagement and recruitment. It’s the first time real-time information has been available in our province, so it means we can help people learn about volunteerism as trends change.”

Fringe Theatre has a unique challenge to recruit, onboard, and engage more than 1,200 volunteers for their annual Fringe Festival in Edmonton. And, their volunteer program is hugely successful. So, how do they do it?

Fringe Theatre’s tip for nonprofits? Use the 10 Steps to Volunteer Screening as the foundation for your volunteer program.

While screening can take a lot of resources, both financially and in staff time, according to Fringe Theatre, it is a worthwhile investment. “Without a good screening program in place, you will spend more time dealing with performance, disciplinary, or retention issues in the future.”

Youth engagement 

What 4-H Alberta does differently is that they create a safe and supportive environment that invites youth to not only govern their clubs but also direct their learning and skills development in any subject that interests them.

4-H Alberta’s tip for nonprofits? Create a program that is flexible for young people’s input and participation. 

“4-H members can pursue whatever projects they can dream up so that potential is perhaps the most appealing reason for youth to join 4-H.”

Vegreville & District FCSS’s Youth Making A Change (YMAC) successfully engages students in grades 10 to 12 in board governance, and as a result, encourages succession planning for the future of our sector.

Vegreville & District FCSS’s tip for nonprofits? Provide appropriate training for your board to mentor and engage youth.

“This can include not putting the youth on the spot or forcing them to participate in a conversation, warning them when a topic may become intense, and offering them words of encouragement throughout the meetings.”

Do you want tips like these and resources before everyone else? Join our network and receive a monthly, Member Exclusive newsletter with specially curated resources. Learn more about Membership.

Adrienne Vansevenandt

Volunteer Alberta

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